Finding and Recruiting Producers and Vendors

Once you have decided the types of farmers and vendors that you would like to have in your farmers’ market you can begin the process of recruiting farmers’ market participants.

As you get ready to begin your farmers’ market recruitment, prepare a simple one-page description of your farmers’ market. Include the day of the week, operating times and dates of the farmers’ market season, as well as the location of the market. If you have information that you think makes your market special, such as a high likelihood of success, include that information as well. If you have settled on application fees and stall fees, you may also want to include that information. Be sure to give them a contact name and phone number or email so they can get in touch with you. It may be helpful to create this sheet in languages other than English as some farm operators and their employees may not speak English as their first language. The two most common languages other than English tend to be Spanish, and Hmong, especially among the growers in the Central Valley.

Some good places to start your recruitment efforts include local farmers’ markets, local farms, groups that represent farms, your local county cooperative extension office, and community groups that work with backyard growers and community gardens.

Recruiting at local farmers’ markets makes sense as you know that the farmers selling there will already have certified producers certificates and will be accustomed to selling directly to consumers through farmers’ markets. If you decide to recruit for farmers and vendors at another farmers’ market be sure to do so in a way that is respectful of the other farmers’ market and the farmers and vendors. The way that you approach this task will create the first impression of your farmers’ market for potential farmers and vendors.

If you can, call the farmers’ market operator or manager in advance to alert them that you are planning to visit the market for the purpose of recruiting farmers and vendors. If there is an on-site market manager, introduce yourself to him or her when you arrive at the farmers’ market and before you begin interacting with farmers. If you have information about your farmers’ market that you have brought to give to farmers and vendors, offer a copy to the market manager.

Look carefully at the farms, their products and their displays. If a farm has an unattractive display or is sampling products in a way that would violate health regulations, think carefully about whether or not that is the type of farm that you would like to see in your farmers’ market. Prioritize your outreach to first connect with those farms whose farmers’ market displays reflect the quality you hope to see in your own farmers’ market.

Time your visit to the farmers’ market so that the farmers and vendors will have time to interact with you. Don’t ask them to spend time talking with you if they have customers waiting to make purchases. The best time to talk to the farmers and vendors will depend on the dynamics of the individual market. Some are very busy as the market opens while others get an end-of-the-day rush. You may need to make several trips to the farmers’ market to find a convenient time to talk to all of the farmers you wish to connect with.

Take notes of every farmer you speak to. Be sure to record the farm name, location, and name of the person you spoke with. Ask if the person you are speaking to is the farmer or a farm employee so you know if they will be making the decision about selling in your farmers’ market themselves, or referring your information to someone else. If the person you are speaking to is not the decision-maker, ask if they would be willing to give you the name and telephone number of the person at the farm who will make the decision so you can follow-up with them directly.

All farmers selling in a farmers’ market must have their certified producers certificate displayed at the point of sale. You should feel free to ask to see the certificate. It can be a great way to get a feeling for all of the products that a farm grows, not just those that are currently in season and for sale at that market. You may find that the farm grows a product that you believe would be a good seller in your farmers’ market, possibly one that they are not bringing to the market you are visiting.

And it never hurts to buy something from each farm you are recruiting to show your commitment to their success!

You can also try recruiting at local farms. Many farms will operate farm stands on their property. Visiting a farm stand during its operating hours gives you access to a farm representative, much like visiting a farm at a farmers’ market. There are also lists of local farms that are produced by local farm trail organizations such as Harvest Time in Brentwood and PlacerGROWN in Placer County. The University of California maintains the California Agricultural Tourism Directory which can put you in contact with farm trail organizations.

In addition, there are other groups which represent farmers that may be able to provide you with a list of local farms or promote your farmers’ market to their member farms for a small fee. The California Farm Bureau Federation is a statewide organization with local or regional chapters of member farms. They may be able to put you into direct contact with their farms or help you to promote your market opportunity to them. If you are particularly interested in recruiting farmers who are certified organic, you should reach out to the organic certifying agencies such as California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) or Oregon Tilth which each make directories of their member farms available.

The Cooperative Extension is a program of the University of California that, among other services, provides training to farmers to improve their production, marketing and business operations. Cooperative Extension staff often has very deep connections within the local farm community and can help to connect you with farmers who may be interested in new marketing opportunities.

If you are interested in recruiting community gardens and backyard growers to sell in your farmers’ market, your own knowledge of your community is your best source for finding growers to sell in your farmers’ market. Some cities, such as San Jose and Oakland, maintain lists of community gardens and the American Community Garden Association may be able to provide links to community gardening groups in your community. To reach backyard growers, you may want to reach out through neighborhood associations and your local master gardeners. You may also be able to reach backyard growers through hyperlocal news sites such as the Patch electronic newspapers, if they are used in your community.

A Guide to Opening Small Farmers' Markets in San Jose, California